The Dublin Review, 464 zk., 1954
Today it can no longer be said that Spain is a 'nation of armed theologians', in the first place because that formidable 'theological climate' in which the Spaniards of the golden Age lived no longer exists: there is no longer an abundance of great theologians in Spain; the balance of trade is, in this respect, unfavourable, since we import many more theological ideas than we export.
Moreover, there exists a considerable religious apathy among the people: their religious fervour does not seem to go hand in hand with the external and traditional manifestations of their faith. In spite of circumstances, Spanish Catholics would probably have tremendous possibilities for their apostolate in present-day society, provided they were thoroughly realist and sincere.
The most clear-sighted of our Catholic leaders are perfectly aware of our present situation, Ecclesia, the Catholic Action weekly, has called attention several times —the last occasion being in its issue of 6 February —to the dangers of over-confidence and the necessity of an overhaul of our religious life. The present controversy between the upholders of tolerance and the partisans of intolerance— the excluyentes and comprensivos, as they are now called here— shows that, despite the difficulties, a new mentality is now making its way felt among the Catholics of this country.
The Holy Father, in his very important discourse of 6 December last, said that 'the affirmation that religious aberrations must always be prevented as far as possible because the toleration of them is in itself immoral, cannot be held valid absolutely and unconditionally;... 'God has not given to human authority a precept of such a kind, so absolute and universal, either in the field of faith or in that of morals'. And further on in his discourse he added that 'such a duty has to be subordinated to higher and more general rules that in circumstances permit of, even show as the better way, the non-prevention of the error in order to promote a greater good'.
There is already a sufficient number of Catholics in Spain, especially among the intellectuals, who think that the best course for us would be that of a prudent and relative liberty of expression which would permit Spaniards to say what they think and feel more clearly than now, even when what they think and feel is not completely orthodox. In any case, the way of setting out the problem which begins by affirming, on one side or the other, that there is only one possible Spain, seems to me very dangerous. It inevitably leads us once more to civil war.
Like any other nation, Spain cannot be thought of as an ideology, but as a human reality, as a great family with history behind it in which men of different ideologies have to live together in concord. As Balmes said, now more than a century ago, 'here there are people of every idea and it is necessary to seek the means by which they may live side by side without slaying each other'.
The present controversy is centred around two great writers of world-wide fame: D. Miguel de Unamuno and D. José Ortega y Gasset. Although both were baptized and brought up in the bosom of the Catholic Church, both have been publicly separated from her since their youth.
No Catholic can be surprised that the Bishops of Salamanca (Mgr. Plá y Deniel, now Cardinal of Toledo) and of the Canary Isles (Mgr. Pildain) have condemned and forbidden the reading of Unamuno's El sentimiento trágico de la Vida. But the publication of the Pastoral Letter of the Bishop of the Canary Isles, under the title of 'Don Miguel de Unamuno, greatest of heretics and master of heresies', in September last, coinciding as it did with the celebrations of the seventh centenary of the University of Salamanca of which Unamuno had been Rector, provoked a great disturbance in lay intellectual circles and the official censorship had to intervene to prevent the press from making indiscreet references to the matter.
The discussions on the subject of Ortega have become fairly violent during the past two or three years, even among Catholic writers. It can be affirmed impartially that Ortega's work has not always been treated with due respect and due scientific honesty.
I have recently seen, in an important Catholic review from Barcelona, an article of moral criticism in which ideas which are clearly alien from his thought are attributed to Ortega. For instance, one of the short passages which the writer quotes to demonstrate his condemnatory thesis and which has been taken out of an essay of Ortega (Obras Completas, Vol. V, p. 144) on fifteenth-century man, describes the mental approach of the Fideists of the Quattrocento, men who were strongly influenced by Ockham. Ortega begins by imagining that he is living in the year 1400 and is one of those intellectual Christians who, through having frequented the Ockhamite Schools, felt more disposed to accept the anti-rationalist credo quia absurdum as an attitude to take up in regard to dogma. 'Dogmas and the commandments', he says, 'are absurd, but they are a brute fact with which we have to reckon... All that is supernatural is irrational'. Unfortunately the moralist in question attributes these words to Ortega as if they expressed his own thought, omitting all explanation as to the context.
I take the liberty of expressing the opinion that the worthy critic of the Barcelona review —a religious— has not on this particular occasion behaved as a moralist of judgement and that such procedure sometimes ends by giving more scandal than the very ideologies which it sets out to destroy.
Naturally a controversy of this kind between scholars would have little or no social importance in a country with liberty of expression. But here it produces immediate political repercussions, since the State does not abstain from religious and philosophical problems but it also takes a stand with regard to them.
But the question must be asked: Is the so-called homogeneity of the Spain of today a reality, or merely a purely political fiction in which nobody sincerely believes? Would a discussion like the present one be possible if a deep diversity of points of view upon important questions did not already exist?
There is in Spain at the present time a marked cleavage between the official truth, civil or ecclesiastical, and social reality. Officially all Spaniards are Catholics and belong to the Church, but a great part of them do not think, speak or act as Catholics. Socially, they do not 'function' as Catholics but as enemies of the Christian attitude to life.
For a theologian this can be without importance, for he knows quite well that the fact that any particular person has been baptized and therefore belongs canonically and sacramentally to the Church, is not incompatible with the fact that he may live completely in contradiction of her teaching.
But, for the man of action, for the politician, the thing is very different. If Spaniards today could express themselves freely, the Church would be strongly attacked and would again find itself in a compromised situation. This is in the minds of all onlookers today. Sociologically and politically, then, it cannot be said that Spain is wholly Catholic. Granted; but it cannot on the other hand be denied that Catholic opinion has great weight and importance in Spain and that in an authentically democratic regime —if that were possible in a country like ours— Catholics would exercise a very great influence.
When the President of the Spanish Republic, Don Manuel Azaña, pronounced his famous phrase, 'Spain has ceased to be Catholic', the Catholics faithful to the Church constituted a very important social and cultural force, although the State was not then officially Catholic. Now that Spain is officially Catholic again, Spanish society has not essentially changed. Together with a large number of effective Catholics, there continues to be a large number of 'Catholics' who are sceptical, indifferent and practising heretics, people with their own religious ideas or without any kind of religious ideas, but who at the same time study, think, write, speak, teach, concern themselves with politics and with many other activities of a social character. How can an enormous muzzle be put on all this mass of people? How are the doors of the State to be legally closed to them, so that they cannot exert their influence and propagate their ideas form their official positions?
A country cannot live under a permanent dictatorship and Catholics who cherish the illusion that religion can always be defended by a strong, authoritarian public power are, in my opinion, mistaken.
The new generations are already declaring themselves against this way of thinking on the part of their elders. In all this there is a question of doctrine and also a question of political and social realities and the two ought to be separated. A regime can defend ideas which are completely right in theory and yet be politically an untenable misrepresentation of things.
So far as education is concerned —a thorny point of the present discussion— the Lord bishop of Astorga has set forth in a recent pastoral the doctrine that in a genuinely Catholic State the education of the young ought not to be entrusted to bad Catholics. 'We do not understand', says Mgr. Mérida Pérez, 'how cultured persons who boast of being good Christians can maintain that in the appointment of teachers of the official teaching establishments of whatever kind, but principally of the universities, account is not to be taken, as of primary importance and without prejudice to the accredited evidence of their scientific capacity, of the religious condition of the candidates. 'And later he affirms that men without faith or manifestly heterodox must be kept in the backwaters of public education because 'it is psychologically inevitable that in their writings they will produce every kind of error against dogmas, against Christian morals and even against the history of the Church and her institutions, and in many cases will use their works as weapons of an enthusiastic and sadly effective apostolate against Christian customs and beliefs. If in addition they place vast erudition, a suggestive style and a reputation partly deserved for certain excellent qualities, but partly maliciously manufactured by enemies of the Church (anxious to attract the attention and affection of youth to themselves and keep it away from other orthodox writers who are, moreover, of greater merit), at the service of such a perverse intention, then the harm they cause to souls is incalculable'.
The teaching of the Church, then, is strictly logical. Its principal objective is the defence of the faith in souls. Its point of departure is to be found in the fact that error and religious truth are not two undifferentiated and undifferentiable things. It is clear that such a doctrine ought not to set any political problem if all or almost all Spaniards had in effect a Catholic mentality, but such is not the case as the facts prove.
I think that any Minister of Education in this country would tremble if the Church required of him to put into practice and carry to their final consequences the Catholic principles concerning education. For this it would be necessary that the religious restrictions against error were transformed into legal obligations and into precise and effective rulings of law. Such rulings and legal obligations do not exist: although all candidates for Chairs are legally Catholics, their real orthodoxy or heterodoxy is not and cannot be assessed; the law does not distinguish those who really have the Faith from those who lack it, the man who practises religion from the one who pays no attention to it. With only the law in one's hands, it is impossible to eliminate candidates who are heterodox or lack religious ideas, if they are better qualified technically. It is not possible, for instance, to publish in the Official Bulletin an order rejecting a candidate on account of his heterodoxy. The desired elimination, therefore, can only be brought about by political and administrative proceedings not always altogether open and aboveboard. However good may be the intention of those whose practice it is to 'trip up' candidates who are 'undesirable', it may well be thought that justice and professional honesty do not come out of such proceedings very well.
I do not think that methods such as these against 'bad Catholics' and in favour of 'good Catholics' are morally acceptable. This would be a very dangerous and not at all 'civic' method of procedure which Catholics could not defend in any case.
It may well indeed be asked, for instance, by what right a purely academic tribunal can decide upon the greater or less Catholicism of a candidate. In the last resort only duly appointed ecclesiastical judges or tribunals could do this.
In reality I see clearly that in the mediaeval Catholic State the Inquisition was a logical and necessary institution and that today it would still continue to be so in a truly Catholic State consistent with its own principles. But in the Middle Ages the genuinely Catholic State was, beyond doubt, something spontaneous and normal, whereas today it would be something so forced and lacking in naturalness that it could not be put into practice. Today a typically Catholic State is not practical, because for such a State it would be necessary for society to be completely saturated, or rather submerged, in Christian ideas, and unfortunately this is not the case, nor do we know if it will ever be so again. It is from this that, in my opinion, almost all the paradoxes among which Spanish Catholicism is wrestling at the present time arise.
Spanish Catholics are now reflecting very seriously about all this. The review Ecclesia, published by Catholic Action, has called attention to the gravity of the present time and the desirability of canalizing self-criticism, that it may give practical results for the apostolate.
The signing of the Concordat has produced among Catholics, especially among the intellectuals, a healthy reaction in that they are asking themselves to what extent its legal text corresponds to a real situation.
This question, then, will raise very important political issues which the Hierarchy will certainly have to face in the future.
Fr. Gordillo, in establishing, in recent comments in the review Razón y Fe, valuable distinctions between the legal position and the real position of Spanish Catholicism, has opened the way to a new setting, more sociological than doctrinal in character, of our problem.
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